CD review: Baka Beyond

Share this article


A FEW years ago the classical music world was turned gently upside-down by an unexpected juxtaposition.

The pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard had decided to share the stage with some Aka Pygmies from the Central African rainforests: he would play Ligeti, and they would sing and play their drums. What emerged was the stunning revelation that the music of Europe's leading contrapuntist was matched in sheer sophistication by the polyphony of "primitive" people who sang and played without any thoughts about "art", but as part of their daily routine. But Airmard had been beaten to it by sound recordist Martin Craddick and his wife Su Hart, who had started a relationship with the neighbouring Baka tribe in the early 1990s, which had already yielded two cult-classic CDs: Spirit of the Forest and Gati Bongo. The stars of those CDs were the men: now comes a CD in which the women are centre-stage, and it's mesmerisingly beautiful.

Craddick's method is to set up a studio in the jungle and record, but this time he's deconstructed the polyphonically complex results back home, and given some of the vocal lines to bass and acoustic guitar. So we get the women's "yelli" yodelling – which is designed to bring good fortune in the hunt – with backing from Western instruments, plus at times Su Hart's winsome Celtic singing. And if the results have more than a tinge of reggae, that's as it should be: though the Baka weren't primary victims of the slave trade, some of their music would undoubtedly have reached the Caribbean in the 18th century. It's nice to know that the scrupulous Craddick is ensuring that the royalties are returned where they belong.